Upon waking, Spock’s internal chronometer informed him that it was 3.17 A.M. This was unusual, as he did not need to be awake for another 3.72 hours.
‘Computer. Lights at 20%,’ he muttered.
Blinking primary eyelids to remove any sleep residue from his vision, he concluded that he must have been woken by an external stimulus, and one hand shot out to grip the phaser lying on his bedside cabinet accordingly. However, it soon became apparent that there was no immediate threat to his life when his auditory systems focused on the sound of retching from the bathroom. Jim. After a moment of consideration, Spock decided two things. One: it was unlikely that the vomiting was caused by alcohol abuse, as contrary to the negative first impression he made, the Captain was too professional to indulge in such behaviour when not on shore leave. Two: it was also unlikely that he would be able to sleep any further without intervention. Cringing inwardly at the sound of another spatter of vomit hitting ceramic, Spock rose from his bed to stand outside the door to their shared bathroom. There he lingered for a moment. Perhaps the Captain would not appreciate his interference in such matters. After all, it had been proved time and time again that he disliked medical treatment, even to the extent of running through the corridors of the Enterprise from an apoplectic Doctor McCoy. But when sensitive ears caught the sound of a ragged sob, Spock found himself knocking before he realised what he was doing. He heard Jim’s breath catch, heard him sniff, heard the fabric of his trousers drag along the floor as he shifted.
‘Come in, Spock,’ Jim said softly.
With a press of the touchpad beside them, the doors slid open to reveal Jim sitting next to the toilet, back against the wall. He wore no shirt, and Spock could see a thin sheen of sweat covering his skin. He regretted his first inhale of air almost immediately, as the pungent smell of sickness invaded his senses, forcing him to quell his gag reflex and breathe through his mouth.
‘Captain,’ he began, noting the alarming paleness of Jim’s face, ‘you are unwell.’
‘I’m fine, Spock,’ Jim rasped, but his insistence was rapidly falsified by him retching, diving for the toilet bowl as he vomited again, bent almost double. He shivered violently, and flailed his hand vaguely in an apologetic fashion at Spock before it was required to keep his balance. Unwilling to admit even to himself that the sight made him feel similarly nauseated, Spock moved forwards, and brought his hand to rest hovering just above Jim’s back. Though they weren’t touching, Jim’s emotions jumped the air barrier like neurotransmitters across the synaptic gap, palpable nausea and misery flooding into him. In an act of self-preservation, Spock drew his hand back to rest at his side, the sickening wave fading and retreating until he had regained equilibrium.
Resolute, Spock began, ‘Captain, I must insist that you go to Medbay.’
‘What?’ Jim said incredulously, wary, bright eyes affixing his with perhaps less intensity than usual. ‘No way, I’m alright.’
‘You are most evidently not ‘alright’.’
‘It’s just a little bug, ‘kay?’ Jim coughed. ‘Humans get these all the time. Didn’t your mom-?’
Spock inhaled a little too fast, and Jim visibly stiffened, eyes darting away, then back to Spock’s. Spock recognised his own flash of grief and suppressed it, cataloguing it in his mind. He gave Jim a sharp nod.
‘Look the point is, I’m fine.’
‘Fine has variable definitions,’ Spock argued, as he had many times with his mother.
This elicited a sigh from Jim, who leant his head against the toilet seat, a move Spock considered highly unsanitary.
‘Doctor McCoy may be able to aid you.’
‘Doctor McCoy,’ Jim mimicked, ‘is asleep right now, and would hypo me extra hard for waking him up. He’s on Alpha tomorrow too. And please don’t suggest going down to Medbay, Spock, because I hate the place. It’ll pass.’
Spock examined him for a long moment. It was true that his mother had, on occasion, fallen ill and recovered within a short period. This knowledge warred with his experience of Jim minimising his medical problems. With Jim’s gaze fixed steadily on him, the former fact won out, as he decided that it would not be worth the stress of waking a cantankerous Doctor McCoy for an ailment that may well be temporary.
‘Very well,’ he conceded, the corners of his lips pulled downwards in the closest to an expression of disapproval Jim was going to get. ‘But in the event that your condition worsens, you are to contact Medbay.’
Jim’s eyebrow raised. ‘Who’s the Captain again?’
Before Spock could answer – if he was going to at all – Jim’s expression morphed into one more dangerous. Looking up through his eyelashes, he adopted a come-hither expression, marred only slightly by his ill pallor.
‘Why, Mister Spock,’ he crooned, tongue darting out to wet his bottom lip, ‘I didn’t know you cared.’
Spock went rigid, back straightening until it could have served as a ruler.
He forced any and all expression from his face and voice, saying dispassionately, ‘You have a duty, as Captain of this ship, to be in optimal condition for the safety and wellbeing of the crew.’
It was the wrong thing to say, and Spock knew it immediately, quashing the wave of guilt that rose on seeing Jim’s hurt expression.
‘Very well,’ Jim barked, diction sharpening until each syllable cracked like a whip.
The tone very clearly implied he was unwelcome, so he nodded and returned to his quarters, hearing with an internal wince that Jim had begun vomiting again. It was 3.24 A.M. He had managed to antagonise the Captain within five minutes of conversation, factoring in the time it had taken to enter and leave the bathroom. Not for the first time, Spock doubted that his counterpart’s vision of a utopian friendship would ever come to pass. The urge to call Ambassador Selek regarding Jim’s ailments arose, sudden, yet fleeting. It was likely that the Ambassador’s own Jim Kirk had had similar experiences, however Spock was often rendered somewhat uncomfortable by the twinkle in his eye when they discussed the Captain. This was separate to the fact that Jim’s warm, and strangely flirtatious reaction to his elder twin was doubly disconcerting. Resigned to the likelihood that sleep would now be unachievable, and aware that he was capable of functioning without it, Spock lit his incense candles.
‘Computer. Lights at 0%. Raise temperature by 10 degrees.’
When Spock folded himself into a meditation pose and closed his eyes, he could almost imagine he was back in the sweltering desert that was Vulcan, the air – so scorching the heat could almost be tasted – warming his near-permanently chilled skin. As a child, tormented by his peers, meditation was his solace. With no friends to turn to, a mother emotionally frazzled by the hostility she met daily, and a father insistent that he be wholly Vulcan despite his biology, meditation provided comfort that was difficult to seek elsewhere. Of course, his mother tried, and Spock knew she loved him, but she would never truly understand the struggle within him, trapped between his need to emote and his need to remain emotionless for safety’s sake. True serenity was often unattainable in his daily interactions. And so it was that after hours in the learning centre, after the inevitable antagonism that came thereafter, Spock would sit with bloodied lip and bruised skin and fall into his own mind. With I-Chaya guarding the door to his room, he knew he was safe.
Dredging up these memories brought with them an unexpected wave of pain, so potent that he shuddered, and immediately chastised himself for it. Vulcans did not allow themselves to feel pain. Vulcans did not suffer from the human affliction of nostalgia. Spock slowed his shaky breathing and inhaled the calming incense, beginning to sift through the memories of the past few days. He weeded out any and all traces of surface emotion and compartmentalised them, knowing that if he allowed them to build up, the primal urges that lay dormant within him could be more easily woken. A great many of these instances, he noticed, involved one James T. Kirk. He felt the echo of his pleasure at seeing Jim smile, his irritation as Jim disregarded his opinion on the bridge, and his worry for Jim’s health, and put those echoes to rest, shifting his mind away from the dangers such feelings presented. He resolved to spend less time around the Captain, as it was obvious that being in his presence posed the most risk of emotional compromise. Composure achieved, he concentrated in slowing his bodily functions in imitation of sleep, feeling the warmth of his home planet on his upturned face.
It was Jim’s alarm that eventually roused him, and the inevitable cursing that ensued. Hearing Jim shuffle around the bathroom to take care of his morning ablutions, Spock readied his uniform and made his bed before his turn for the shower came. By the time he reached the bridge and saw Jim’s easy smile, greeted warmly, the events of the night before were forgotten.
When Jim’s alarm went off, he jerked awake, cracked his head against the sink, and swore. There was no way it was 7 already, no way. But as his alarm kept blaring, and no sign of being in a dream – note to self: fuck, pinching hurts – it was time to face the inevitable, awful truth. He was going on a shift with two hours sleep feeling like he’d been smacked in the face with a shovel. Better not tell that to Spock; he could already hear the dull ‘Have you had prior experience of being assaulted with a gardening implement, Captain?’ echoing in his ears. Ugh, no. He should be mad at Spock anyway, for being such an ass last night. As if he’d ever put his crew in danger just because he didn’t like being poked and prodded. If he was really sick, he’d go. Jim hauled himself to his feet and shoved the shower on, wincing as he saw his face in the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot, with purple-black shadows underneath, and he was still pretty pale. Switching the shower from sonic to water, he sighed in pleasure as he slipped under the hot spray, turning the temperature up until his bones didn’t feel cold anymore. No matter how he tried to distract himself, he couldn’t stop thinking about what Spock had said last night. Selek had always been so insistent that they would have this beautiful relationship, and Jim had thought that maybe that was materialising post-Khan, when Spock spent most of their year grounded helping Jim get fit and healthy again. But as soon as the Enterprise was ready to go, Spock withdrew, spending more time with Uhura, and on lab work, and Jim wanted to know why. He washed quickly, aware of the time, and that Spock, a stickler for routine, was likely waiting for his turn already. Feeling cleaner and slightly more energetic, he turned the water off and finished his morning routine, a quick glance in the mirror revealing that he no longer looked like a corpse, thank god.
‘It’s all yours!’ he called, pulling a towel off the rack to slip around his waist as he left the bathroom.
It was twenty five past when he checked his watch, so he yanked his uniform on and dragged himself down to the mess. He’d normally wait for Spock when they were on shift together, but Jim thought he deserved a bit of a cold shoulder today. Bones was already there when he arrived, looking as radiant and approachable as ever with his semi-permanent scowl and a glare directed at anyone who passed his table. Jim grabbed some toast and sat uncomfortably close to him.
‘Hey, Bones,’ he simpered, complete with shit-eating grin.
‘Get off me, you limpet.’
Jim allowed himself to be shoved a foot to the left, adopting a hurt expression, complete with bottom lip wobble.
‘Y’know that face doesn’t work on me,’ Bones snapped. ‘I have a kid you know, and you’re just like she was at three.’
‘But Booooooones,’ Jim cooed, shifting closer again, ‘I want my morning cuddle.’
He caught the eye of Chekov, sat at the table across with a shy little smile on his face, and smirked back as he saw Bones’ face grow ever more mottled with rage.
‘Hell’s bells, Jim, forget what I just said. My Jo wasn’t ever as clingy as you. Pull yourself together, man, you’re twenty eight years old.’
Jim winked at Chekov and lay his head on Bones’ shoulder, before scooting out of hypo range. When no retribution seemed to be forthcoming, he shoved his toast in his mouth, to Bones’ disgusted stare, then stood and stretched.
‘Mmm, I’ll be ten minutes early, but it looks like Spock will already be there.’
‘Yeah, what’s up with you and the hobgoblin anyway?’ Bones asked, brandishing his mug in Jim’s direction.
‘What do you mean? Pretty sure we’re cool.’
‘He been a bit distant lately?’ Bones smirked. ‘Honeymoon period worn off? Seems to be spending a lot of time in the labs lately, and less playing chess with you.’
He knew Bones was only teasing, but the truth hurt, and he was forced to suppress a grimace. Unfortunately, Bones noticed everything.
‘Oh, come on, Jimmy, I didn’t mean no harm. I was joking, that’s all.’
‘I know, it’s cool,’ Jim smiled, cheeks dimpling but he knew it wouldn’t pass as genuine. Bones looked at him in concern, but he waved it off, throwing him a quick goodbye and setting off before Mr. Laser Eyes could notice anything else off about him. He caught up with Chekov on the way and clapped his back, giving him a quick hello.
‘Making my way to the bridge. Walking fast,’ he sang softly.
Chekov tittered, and it was all well and good until Bones shouted after him, ‘Hey, Jim, you been sleeping okay?’
Thankfully, after a near-jog out of Bones’ immediate range, they made it to the bridge unhindered. Jim greeted everyone with a smile and a grin, and when Spock appeared, he turned in his chair to say good morning, trying to put last night’s argument behind him. Spock nodded stiffly in response, though one corner of hips lips quirked upwards in what Jim liked to imagine was a sort-of smile.
‘Anything to report, Captain?’ Spock asked, relieving the officer sat at his station and going through his morning checklist.
‘Nope,’ Jim replied easily, popping the ‘p’. ‘No anomalous activity, Mr. Spock, but we are approaching a new planetary system. Current estimates are that we’ll be there in a few days, so… cautious investigation, I think. Don’t want to freak out the locals. Until then, not much really.’
A bubble of laughter rose in him as he considered the fact that the Enterprise was the first ship to explore this far out, with a crew that were considered babies by most of Starfleet. Spock raised an eyebrow in question. Jim huffed a breath out through his nose, smiling softly.
‘It’s nothing, Mr. Spock. Just that… this opportunity is amazing. To be able to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations.’
His smile broadened until it lit up his whole face, his cheeks aching.
‘It is indeed a unique venture, Captain,’ Spock offered. ‘However, both you and the crew have proved yourselves worthy of such responsibility.’
‘Spock, I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,’ Jim sniffed, hand pressed to his chest.
‘It’s the nicest thing he’s said about any of us,’ Sulu piped up, then quailed under Spock’s hard stare.
Jim resolved to talk to him about that later. He might understand that it was just a neutral expression, but that didn’t mean the rest of the crew would. As the shift went on, a throbbing in his temples surfaced and worsened, until he was clenching the armrests of his chair with every new wave of agony. In between signing reports that yeoman gave him and pulling together data from science, engineering and communications, he could feel Spock’s eyes on him, but he refused to acknowledge it, turning his face away and trying to stop himself from squirming with the pain. The clock turning four was a blessing, as it felt like needles were being stabbed into his head. He stood on wobbly legs, thanked the lieutenant who was relieving him, and scuttled off towards the exit.
He stopped dead in his tracks, cursing internally. 100-watt smile adopted, he turned to Spock, suppressing the flinch as his head pulsed with excruciating intensity. Spock studied him as he would a specimen in the lab, dark eyes analysing his every twitch and shiver. Jim held his breath.
‘Are you certain you are recovered from your illness?’ Spock asked finally, and Jim could have fainted with relief.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ he blustered, ‘I’m good, Spock. I’m goooood.’
Lifting an eyebrow, Spock responded with a nod, starting to walk away.
‘Wait!’ Jim said desperately. ‘Chess tonight?’
While on shore leave, they had played at least twice a week, starting when Jim was too weak to even get out of bed, and Spock had brought along a beautiful old cut glass set. When asked whose it was originally, he had replied quietly that it was his mother’s, and hadn’t spoken another word all night. Jim had garnered endless enjoyment from the obvious shock on Spock’s face the first time he’d won a match, which was somewhere around the second or third time they’d played, when he was feeling a little better. An old grandmaster, he was obviously unaccustomed to being beaten, and Jim remembered how his lips had tightened into a thin line as he watched him roll around with laughter until he gasped for breath, stitches straining. But again, as soon as they’d re-boarded Enterprise, Spock’s availability had declined from almost daily, to weekly, and falling. It had been three weeks since they’d last had a game.
‘I apologise, Captain, but I have alternative arrangements with Lieutenant Uhura,’ Spock replied monotonously, and without another word, turned to catch up with her. Jim felt the smile slip from his face like the last drink that had been poured over his head as he watched Uhura link arms with him and leant her head on his shoulder. And Spock let her. Watching them made Jim’s stomach lurch sickeningly, like missing a step on the stairs, a distinct sense of wrong that invaded his body and sucked the air from his lungs. A moment later, he realised how ridiculous he was being – they were a couple, and he should be happy that his crew was happy. He should be happy that Spock was happy. Recognising how dumb he must look gawking after two of his officers, he swept away down the corridor, flushing as he noticed a couple of ensigns staring.
‘Are you alright, Captain?’ one asked as he sped towards the turbolift.
‘Yeah, thanks,’ he replied, wincing as his voice cracked when another surge of pain hit. ‘Carry on.’
He didn’t look back to see if they were still watching, and was thankful when he encountered no one else on the way to his quarters. Once safely inside, he stumbled over to his bed and lay on his front, pressing his face into the duvet in the half-hearted hope that he’d pass out and wouldn’t be able to feel it anymore. He considered going to Bones for about a millisecond, but he knew he’d never get away without being stabbed with 20 hypos, and probably strapped to a bed to boot. Besides, it was only a bug. He pulled his knees up to his chest, so that his forehead was just touching the bed, and like that, like a child, he eventually fell asleep.
‘Jimmy! Jimmy! You have to run. You have to go now! No, I can’t come with you, honey. Your Uncle Gabe and I will hold them off, just go!’
Aunt Grace’s face, normally serene and welcoming, was wretched, smeared with tears and blood, and so he did. He did with young legs pumping frantically across the barren fields as he heard the door blasted in and the flames tear their way up the house with a roar, and the smell of the rotting crops making him gag, and he didn’t look back. He never looked back.
He woke with tears wetting the lines in his forehead and his bed sheets, having to stifle the wild cry that had risen in his throat without his permission. Unfolding his limbs from their warm cocoon, he sat up, scrubbing at his eyes with the heel of his palm and squinting at the clock. His heart sank when he saw that he’d missed his normal dinner time after Alpha, and the long-unnecessary but ever-present panic that arose when he had no access to food began to quicken his heart. He could always go and sneak something from the mess, but 20:45 was an odd time to go and eat, unless you were the nursing staff who grabbed food whenever they could, and they might tell Bones, and Bones might come and ask him what was wrong and maybe even take him off duty if he realised he hadn’t been well. And- oh.
Then he remembered the replicator, sitting unobtrusively in the corner, as it always had. A ragged breath hissed its way out from between his teeth and he closed his eyes as he willed himself to calm. This was the Enterprise, not Tarsus. He was no longer a child. Replicating a big cheeseburger, he sniggered to himself about the fact that Bones wouldn’t be able to reprimand him about his eating habits for once. He’d never know that the meaty goodness had ever passed his lips. After he’d finished, he reluctantly got on with his reports, beginning with the weekly comprehensive report to Starfleet. This was always the job he put off most, especially when they were just on milk runs, or in limbo like they were at the moment. He scrolled through messages from Engineering (summary: everything’s fine), Communications (summary: nobody to communicate with at the moment), and Science (summary: we’re experimenting because we’re bored), and skimmed through Bones’ rant filled diary entry to find the medical information he needed to send. He was going to switch the padd off, but somehow he found his fingers disobeying him to scroll back up to the Science report. Before, he’d only checked for anomalous findings, but seeing as Spock wouldn’t talk to him anymore, here he had the perfect opportunity to see what he was up to. Clicking through link after link to find Spock’s personal lab entries was a vaguely voyeuristic feeling; odd, for someone like Jim who had very few inhibitions. It wasn’t that they weren’t allowed to be read, but it was unnecessary for him to do so, sort of like looking at someone’s rough drafts. Settling in to read through his adventures with terraforming, Jim smiled wistfully and sat back in his chair. He could almost hear Spock tell him about it, that deep, slow rumble of a voice that had wrapped its way around his heart. He traced the edge of the padd with trembling fingers, and wished it was Vulcan skin beneath them.